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Gov. Tim Pawlenty would like to see some movement toward a new Vikings stadium before he leaves office.

Paul J. Richards, Getty Images/AFP

Pawlenty: Vikings a big asset to state

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • February 18, 2010 - 7:53 AM

Gov. Tim Pawlenty would like to see some movement toward a new Vikings stadium before he leaves office.

"I don't know if it's going to come up this year, but what we know is this: The Vikings are a valued asset for Minnesota, we want to keep them here, and they're not going to stay in the Metrodome," Pawlenty said. "So, this issue is going to come to a head, and there are some examples that I and others have put out that would at least move the debate forward, but it's very hard to do that when the economy is so bad and so many other aspects of government are being reduced."

Pawlenty talked about a lottery game as possible help.

"There's a new lottery game called 'Mega Millions.' It's not part of the state's budget yet because it's brand new and it's not even factored into the budget forecast, and that would generate to the general fund of the state or to other purposes about $12 million a year," Pawlenty said. "We also have suggested there's other ways to do it, like looking at tax increment financing -- of course, the Vikings would have to contribute a substantial portion, as well as the league. Then I also think if this ever gets done, it's going to require a local partner, a city or a county is going to have to step forward and say they're willing to be a partner as well."

Pawlenty talked about the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium, which opened last year and held the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, drawing more than 100,000 people for the game. The stadium also is the new home of the Cotton Bowl and is scheduled to hold the Super Bowl next February and the Final Four in 2014. The $1.3 billion stadium was funded by both the Cowboys and by the city of Arlington, Texas, where it is located.

"You want to plan the stadium to be beyond just for Vikings events, because like you said, there's a limited number of days they actually use it," he said. "So, you want to make it the kind of facility that concerts, tractor pulls, conventions, Final Fours, other things like that would want to use that facility, so that has to be part of the attraction and part of the value as well."

The governor, who isn't running for a third term this fall, is convinced that the stadium will happen, sooner or later.

"Well, I do think it's going to happen at some point," he said. "I don't know if it's going to happen while I'm still in office, because there's so many economic challenges right now that I think the Legislature would be very hesitant to say we're going to introduce the Vikings into that mix when they've got their hands full on the basic things like health and human service funding and nursing home issues and things like that."

Ways to do it

Pawlenty offered suggestions for how to possibly fund a Vikings stadium, prefacing his remarks by saying, "I offered these just as examples, I'm not making a proposal or saying that this is what I'm proposing." He continued: "I think there are pieces of the puzzle that you could see that could be put together. I think the lottery -- dedicating a current or future or new lottery game for this purpose -- could be one piece of the puzzle from the state's perspective, but other pieces would have to include a local unit of government saying that they want to be part of it and they'd have to raise their hand and step forward, and so far, nobody's done that."

One argument for a new stadium is the tax revenue it would provide. "There's certainly an increment of additional tax revenues that would be generated by the new stadium that the current stadium does not," Pawlenty said. "There's some debate about whether that's a couple million dollars or whether that's closer to $10 million, but that could all be figured out and measured. But clearly a new stadium would generate some additional economic activity and tax revenues to state and local government."

The Vikings have talked about this figure being close to $25 million. "Well, that might be their total generation, but you have to subtract out what the current stadium is generating to figure out the difference," Pawlenty said.

The Vikings are clearly the most popular team in Minnesota, and Pawlenty realizes that losing them would be devastating to the state. "Minnesota loves the Vikings and we're very proud of the Vikings," Pawlenty said. "You just saw this last season when certain Sundays, over 80 percent of all the televisions in the state were tuned into the Vikings game -- the whole state seemed to come to a standstill to watch the Purple and Brett Favre. For a lot of Minnesotans, the Vikings bring such great joy. Certainly we want to keep them, they're a valuable asset, but we have to do that in a way that also is respectful of the current economic crisis that we're facing."

That said, Pawlenty doesn't believe they will leave, saying: "I believe Zygi Wilf's commitment to Minnesota. He said he would not move the team, and I believe him, he's a man of his word. I've gotten to know him, and I sure appreciate the incredible excellence with which he has led the team and his family has led the team as owners. They've made a commitment to excellence that shows in the team that they've assembled.

"But just because he said he wouldn't move the team doesn't mean he couldn't sell it to somebody who would move the team."

Jottings

Pawlenty reported that Lou Holtz had been scheduled to speak in Washington, D.C., to a group of governors, but the ESPN college football analyst and former Gophers coach had to cancel after being in an auto accident and suffering minor injuries.

Bad news for the Gophers men's basketball team: Orono High School product Jon Leuer, a Wisconsin starter who hasn't played since fracturing his left wrist Jan. 9 against Purdue, has been practicing this week and is available to face Tubby Smith's team at Williams Arena on Thursday. ... The Gophers have been invited to play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Field this November. Other teams in the tournament include North Carolina, Davidson, Hofstra, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Western Kentucky.

Gophers football coach Tim Brewster said it speaks well of how good a linebacker coach John Butler is with three of his linebackers -- Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence -- all invited to the NFL combine. Wide receiver Eric Decker also was invited, but he won't be able to work out because of his foot injury suffered last fall.

Mark Alt, who quarterbacked Cretin-Derham Hall to the Class 5A football title over Eden Prairie, has football offers from Kansas and Iowa but hasn't decided whether he will give up his scholarship to play hockey for the Gophers.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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